My mom had four sisters and five brothers, and she was the baby of a family. All of her brothers and sisters lived in Alabama, so Mom, Dad and I would always travel there for the big holidays. Back then there was no such thing as drawing names for gifts. Everyone exchanged presents with everyone. Dad had to have money withheld from his weekly paycheck just so we could afford this extravagance, and Christmas Eve night my aunt’s living room was so full of gifts no one could even move!
Two of Mom’s brothers never married, and one divorced early on, so the three of them lived together. We called them “The Three Boys.” They loved cake and when it came to holiday desserts, The Boys called the shots, each requesting a different flavor. Raymond loved chocolate, Farley adored coconut, and Lomax wanted caramel. I don’t think they each really had a favorite, but this was their way of getting the sisters to make three different cakes!
And then there was mbrosia, the other exquisite dessert that was always served with those three cakes. How could such three simple ingredients—oranges, coconut, and sugar—rise to such perfection?
I travel to Florida this week, and Friday I’ll take my parents to my cousin Gwen’s house in Daleville, Alabama, where we meet my other cousin, Patricia, her husband Tom, and my mother’s only living sibling, Aunt Dot who’ll drive down from Montgomery.
It’s quite a different scene. I miss those years of abundance, but I’m so appreciative of these sweet gatherings. We’ve decided no gifts, and the meal will be simple. There’s no one demanding three desserts, but my cousin Gwen makes a mean coconut cake, and the ambrosia mantle got passed onto my cousin Patricia. She always, always, always makes sure it’s there.
For the first time ever, my cousins and Aunt are visiting me in Pennsylvania after Christmas. Maggy and I will probably share a few of our holiday traditions with them including this grapefruit-orange riff on the classic.
3 grapefruits (a mix of pink and white is nice), peeled and sectioned
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
1/2 cup sweetened, flake coconut
1/4 cup sugar
Section grapefruits and oranges over a medium bowl to catch the juices.
Stir in coconut and sugar. Let stand until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
Serve in bowls or goblets